Empathy isn’t just listening, it’s asking the questions whose answers need to be listened to. Empathy requires inquiry as much as imagination. Empathy requires knowing you know nothing. Empathy means acknowledging a horizon of context that extends perpetually beyond what you can see.
Empathy means realizing no trauma has discrete edges. Trauma bleeds. out of wounds and across boundaries. Sadness becomes seizure. Empathy demands another kind of porousness in response. My Stephanie script is twelve pages long. I think mainly about what it doesn't say.
Empathy is the ability to step outside of your own bubble and into the bubbles of other people. Empathy is the ability that allows us to be useful creatures on this planet; without empathy, we are a waste of oxygen in this world. Without empathy, we are lower than animals. Empathy is the ability that allows us the perception of things around us, outside of ourselves; so a person without empathy is a limited human being, someone who will only live half of a life.
I think people believe empathy to be compassion, that compassion is an inner sense (a sense of the soul). But empathy is a sense, while compassion isn't a sense. Empathy is an affinity, a communion, a comprehension. They say that empathy is compassion, but I think that the two are independent of each other. You see, through empathy you will feel what another is feeling, including all those plans for manipulation and persuasion. You will feel everything, not just the parts that make you take compassion for the person, but also all the red flags! You see, empathy is a sense that works with the other senses such as foresight and intuition. So, we can feel compassion but we have to move with empathy.
The process of categorisation is as old as men, yet as old as man alone, for no other animal species categorises itself so neatly. Yet the ultimate, most vulnerable and weakest victim of categorisation is empathy. Categorisation is a process that destroys the very empathy that enlivens communities: the empathy that traditionally binds diverse communities together.
Empathy isn't just something that happens to us - a meteor shower of synapses firing across the brain - it's also a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves. It's made of exertion, that dowdier cousin of impulse. Sometimes we care for another because we know we should, or because it's asked for, but this doesn't make our caring hollow. This confession of effort chafes against the notion that empathy should always rise unbidden, that genuine means the same thing as unwilled, that intentionality is the enemy of love. But I believe in intention and I believe in work. I believe in waking up in the middle of the night and packing our bags and leaving our worst selves for our better ones.
I think that many people do not know what empathy is. They think empathy is understanding their own selves and then connecting with like-minded individuals, who of course will understand them since they all share the same ideas. Empathy has nothing to do with likemindedness; it has to do with being able to feel the things that others feel, even when you do not share the same ideas, life story, or absolutely nothing at all! When I hear someone say, “I don’t understand you”, that makes me feel sorry for them. I can even understand a rock, and they can’t understand me? My pet rocks have more empathy than they do.
I needed people to deliver my feelings back to me in a form that was legible. Which is a superlative kind of empathy to seek, or to supply: an empathy that rearticulates more clearly what it's shown.
You see, it’s about empathy. It’s not about you. It’s about empathy. It’s not even about caring or being kind. It’s about empathy. Do you think that all people who can empathize with other people (and rocks and trees), are desirous of being kind, at all times? Of course not! Empathy often hurts, and is often difficult. But we experience this difficulty, because we are human beings, because human beings are designed to connect with other living and non-living things!
When we give and receive empathy, transformation occurs.